In 1980, a courageous group of Long Island rail preservationists, under the leadership of railroad historian, author and photographer Ron Ziel, embarked on the restoration of Long Island Rail Road steam locomotive #39.  They moved the mammoth engine from the Stony Brook Carriage Museum to the LIRR yard at Riverhead, New York.  From there, working outside in all kinds of weather, these volunteers made progress in bringing the engine back to life.

.        By 1993, the “Engine 39 Restoration Committee” was no more.  The locomotive sat partially finished in the yard at Riverhead and the assets of the Committee were placed in limbo with the New York State Supreme Court.  Later that year, the Supreme Court awarded ownership of #39 and all other rolling stock, equipment and supplies to the fledgling Railroad Museum of Long Island.  The Museum immediately began to draft plans to pick up the restoration effort where it left off and moved to secure funding for the work to be done.

.        In 1996 the Museum was awarded a Federal ISTEA grant of $800,000 to complete the restoration work at Riverhead.  Little did Museum members understand that government funding meant government rules and regulations.  Volunteers could not do the work!  Contractors and prevailing wage laws caused the #39 project to move from Museum oversight to government oversight.  As with any municipal project, it took time, and the first wrench wasn’t turned on the locomotive until 2005!

.        A great deal of good work was completed on the locomotive firebox and tender between 2005 and 2010, when the $800,000 grant was exhausted.  During this time, the rail preservation community learned the hard way that past Pennsylvania Railroad maintenance practices on steam locomotives no longer provided the margin of safety necessary to operate in the Twenty-first Century.  These engineering pitfalls affected restoration of PRR K4s Engine #1361, LIRR G5s Engine #35 and LIRR G5s Engine #39.  The outcome: rebuilding boilers and fireboxes now cost a lot more money!

.        In 2013 the Railroad Museum of Long Island entered a fifteen year agreement with the Strasburg Rail Road Company to raise the money needed to restore Engine 39 to revenue service.  The Strasburg Railroad comes to the table with half the cost of rebuilding the locomotive and the Museum has to raise the other half, over one million dollars.